So two years ago, when I took the controls of the ASGA as your pilot, I talked about our imaginary flight that we would be taking over the next two years. Well, today is yesterday’s future, so I would like now to close my flight plan.
The ASGA board and everyone in this room who are the leaders of this great industry have a lot to be proud of because of our united and dedicated commitment to make things better for our growers.
Our number-one objective two years ago was to make sure the current sugar policy operated as it was imagined and intended. While there has been great turbulence from some of our customers over the strengthening of the sugar market, growers finally have sustained returns that have helped address debt — both on our farms and in our cooperatives. The stronger market has given hope and excitement once again to everyone, especially to our younger producers. If we are to produce a high-quality product, store it and deliver it when and where our customers want it, we then need a respectable return for the huge risk and investment our growers take in producing it.
We must always promote and defend our policy. As hearings began on the 2012 farm bill, we made it clear to members of Congress that we have a policy that works for our producers, and one that creates 142,000 jobs and generates nearly $20 billion in economic activity. The policy does it all at no cost to the American taxpayer. We have made hundreds of grower visits to Capitol Hill offices to tell our story and ask for members’ support.
Our next key objective was to maintain production of Roundup Ready® sugarbeets. This technology is critical to the survival of our industry. Even before we took flight with this technology in 2008, opponents of biotechnology threatened to shoot us down. Well, with typical courage and determination, the growers in this industry took flight — and we have endured anti-aircraft fire, surface-to-air-missiles, dog fights and kamikaze missions by our opponents. They have thrown everything they can against us. Our legal issues have been before five judges, in four lawsuits, in three courts, on two coasts over one little tiny seed. But when the call went out to comment on draft environmental assessments and draft environmental impact statements, our industry leaders and growers stood tall and did what was asked of them, with dedication and perseverance.
When we said that growers would have to produce Roundup Ready sugarbeets within strict conditions under a partial deregulation — and with the eyes of the world upon us — you and your growers performed as the champions that you are. That requires every grower to take his mission seriously and successfully complete it. The agricultural biotech industry salutes you for what you have accomplished.
Our third key focus has been on addressing various crop insurance issues. Each year, we have called on RMA to adjust their price election. And they have done so, providing millions of dollars of additional coverage that is desperately needed by those who lose their crops. We worked to permanently remove staged coverage from our policies, and we have a pilot for field piles (clamps) in southern Minnesota and Michigan.
Our fourth key focus has been on trade issues. We are still dealing with the transition of a common North American sugar market that joins the U.S. and Mexico markets as one. We thank Ray VanDriessche of Michigan for his dedicated work on these issues on behalf of the growers for the past 11 years. There are new trade agreements that always threaten our industry, and we must work hard to keep those threats to a minimum.
In closing, I have been honored to lead this group during this very challenging and successful two-year period. Thanks to all of you for your hard work and efforts that have brought the good results that the sugarbeet industry has witnessed.
I have complete confidence in your board and its new leaders to shepherd the ASGA and the entire U.S. sugar industry through the challenges ahead.
Before I turn over the controls to Kelly, I would like to thank ASGA board members and our staff for their vote of confidence in me, as well as the Minn-Dak Board of Director for their support. I am a proud dirt farmer, not a politician or public speaker. I could not have done this job without the help of all of you: the staff, my family, my partner, Rick Bladow, and most importantly, my wife, Mary.
Thank you all for giving me this great honor and experience of being the American Sugarbeet Growers Association president for these past two years.